Wind was blowing through the broken window again. Before Amalia could get up, Diana set her knitting aside and wedged the rags back in place. She paused, peering out the grimy pane of glass.
“They’ll be back when they can,” Amalia told her.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t let me go with them.”
“It’s Unitas’ rule, not mine.”
Diana gave her a disgusted look. “You could’ve told Harley I was the same age as Will.”
“Honesty is the best policy.” Amalia bent back over her journal.
Diana returned to her seat of duffel bags and an old seat cushion and picked up her knitting. “Well, you won’t be able to stop me next year. I’ll be old enough to go on all the same missions Will goes on. Even the dangerous ones.”
Amalia’s shoulders tightened and her pen quit moving. “And if something happened to you, your family—”
“Would still be dead.”
“I suppose so.” Amalia began writing again.
Diana examined her knitting and tried to pick up where she left off, but she kept dropping stitches and finally set the shapeless project aside.
“Why don’t you fletch a few arrows?”
“Don’t feel like it.”
“Take a nap. I’ll wake you for your turn on watch.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Would you like me to read to you?”
“No.” Diana got to her feet and paced the cold, narrow room.
“If you can’t find a useful project I can make sure you get assigned one.”
Diana sat down and sullenly picked up her knitting again. “I just want Will to come back.”
Amalia didn’t answer.
“What kind of dumb mission takes place over Christmas? Last year all the groups called a truce and we played soccer with the snipers from Hispanos Unidos.”
“And by New Year’s they had shot three of our camp supporters. We can't trust anyone.”
“So why did you let Will go? He's my best friend and he's the closest thing I’ve got to family and—”
Amalia’s voice took on an edge. “You’ve got me.”
“It's not the same. Some fucking Christmas this is.”
“Diana.” Amalia turned intense eyes upon her. “You obviously need constructive work to do. Go help Paloma with supper.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Go now, or I’ll make sure you get assigned something you’ll like even less.”
Diana spent the rest of the afternoon tending fires and stoking improvised brick ovens in the shelter of a collapsed wing of the motel. Finally it was time to go on watch. With a pocket full of dry cornbread, she went to her station on a low wall at the entrance to the motor court. Now that she had access to binoculars, she scanned the horizon anxiously. But she saw neither friends nor enemies, only the blank scrubland stretching toward the distant mesas.
As the sun set and a light snow began to fall, her hope faded that Will and the rest of their party might make it back for Christmas Eve. When Ikea relieved her, she handed over the binoculars and trudged back to the room she shared with Auntie.
As she stepped inside, she sucked in her breath. On the wobbly dresser, Amalia had arranged some branches of mesquite and lit her two precious wax candles, their light reflecting like stars in the dusty mirror. Occupying pride of place was a bundle wrapped in cloth and tied with a fraying ribbon.
At Diana’s questioning look, Amalia ducked her head. “I know we said we’d wait until Will came back. So consider it a surprise from Santa.”
“I’m a little old for Santa.” She picked up the gift. “Maybe I should open it later. I don’t have yours ready yet.”
“Santa gave me what I wanted.” Amalia sat on the edge of the musty bed and motioned Diana to her. “You seem to forget you're not the only one who has no home or kin. I know I'm hard on you sometimes, but you're my family now, and when I think what it would mean to lose you. . .”
Diana stared in silence as Amalia looked away, sniffling. Auntie never cried, not even on the day she buried her own sister. “I'm sorry.” She threw her arms around her. “I don't know what makes me so selfish. It's a good Christmas, just us together. Really.”
Diana opened her present, which consisted of some much-needed socks and a warm knit cap. Then Amalia read the nativity story from the Bible while Diana dozed beside her on the bed. Finally Amalia put the book away and they slept huddled in their patched wool blankets while snowflakes drifted lazily outside the window.
Just before sunrise, a soft sound awakened her and Diana opened one eye to see the door swing inward. Thinking it was the wind, she stumbled to her feet to close it.
A shadow in the doorway gave her pause. “You came back!”
Will was filthy and damp with melting snow, but he grabbed Diana tight, as if he might pull her into his body so he could have her with him always. Over the top of her head, he met Amalia’s suspicious eyes.
“Are you AWOL?”
Will limped to the bed, carrying a saddlebag. “I'm heading straight back after breakfast. What’s Harley going to do? Kick me out?” He reached into his bag and produced two paper-wrapped packages. “For my favorite ladies. Merry Christmas.”
Amalia’s eyes narrowed. “How did you get—?”
“Does it matter?”
“Stealing is no way to celebrate the birth of our Savior.”
“You know I don't care about that Baby Jesus stuff.” He opened his arms for Diana to sit on his lap, where he kissed her hair and wrapped her braid around a chilblained hand. “Aren't you going to open your present?”
“This is my present.” She looked to Amalia for approval. “Isn't that what's important? That we lost our families but made our own, instead?”
Amalia was examining her gift, frowning as if she might have something else to say about it. But instead her features softened and she put it aside. “Of course,” she said. “Being with the ones we love is the best gift of all.”